What Is Skip Tracing?

The digital age has afforded American citizens with an unparalleled measure of convenience and comfort unknown to previous generations. It has also enabled law enforcement to track and apprehend criminals more easily by following their “digital footprints.” Thanks to the staggering amount of digital and paper documentation that exists for every citizen, investigators can relatively easily find anyone in a short time, even if the individual wishes to remain undetected. Skip tracing is the act of tracking down a person who has skipped town. These individuals may include:

  • Persons of interest in criminal cases
  • Missing heirs or beneficiaries of estates
  • Subjects of legal proceedings to whom another party must serve papers
  • Defendants who fail to appear for required court dates
  • People who skip bail
  • Debtors who default on their debts
  • Clients and customers who fail to pay for obtained services from private businesses
  • Long-lost relatives and loved ones


A skip tracer must possess the skills of a detective as well as knowledge of current computer systems and record keeping techniques. Skip tracing typically involves tracking a person down through public records and various tools, including:

  • Social media
  • Open source intelligence techniques
  • Public records
  • Specialized investigator databases
  • Court filings
  • Property deeds
  • Interviews with known relatives, friends, coworkers, and other associates
  • Surveilling areas where the subject may appear
  • Deep web research

An accomplished investigator can often find a subject of skip trace in a matter of hours or days for a relatively low cost. The investigator will typically trace the subject’s personal information, such as primary residence, birth certificate, Social Security information, place of work, current phone number, and any other evidence needed to substantiate their findings.

The cost of a skip trace will fluctuate, depending on whether the subject is actively hiding and how much publicly accessible information is available on the person. Additionally, the accuracy of such information can sometimes complicate an investigation. For example, a homeless person with no cell phone and no listed address will be much harder to find than a citizen with a fixed address.


Most people are at least somewhat familiar with the concept of bounty hunting. A bounty hunter is an individual who earns a living by tracking down defendants who fail to appear for required court dates. Typically, the bounty hunter will earn a percentage of the individual’s bond amount. For example, a person who skips out on a $100,000 bond could mean a 10% fee for the bounty hunter who locates the person, or $10,000.

Many bounty hunters retain the services of skip tracers or act as skip tracers themselves. Some bounty hunters will obtain degrees in criminal justice as well as training in various methods for tracking subjects of interest. Essentially, some bounty hunters prefer to do the tracking on their own instead of paying a subcontractor. However, it’s important to note that skip tracers do not act as bounty hunters. They will help locate a subject, but the bounty hunter is the one who will apprehend the subject and return him or her to the proper authorities. Skip tracing professionals often work with bounty hunters, investigative firms, debt collection agencies, and even law enforcement agencies and the government.